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Central Iranian Nuclear Site Knocked Out Hours After Activating Advanced Centrifuges
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (L) and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Ali Akbar Salehi (2nd R) visit Nuclear Technology exhibition on the 11th anniversary of National Nuclear Technology Day in Tehran, Iran on April 10, 2021. (Iranian Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Central Iranian Nuclear Site Knocked Out Hours After Activating Advanced Centrifuges

Mysterious power outage occurs as Israel hosts US defense secretary, following Vienna talks

Iranian officials on Sunday reported that an electric grid failure has led to a sweeping power outage in its Natanz nuclear facility, less than one day after new uranium enrichment equipment was activated at the site.

According to civilian nuclear program spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, the incident, which has shut down the complex’s new advanced centrifuges, among others, caused “no casualties or contamination” and is being investigated.

On Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani announced the operation of dozens of state-of-the-art centrifuges yet to be used by Iran. The new machinery installed in Natanz is said to be able to enrich uranium at a speed 30 to 50 times faster than the existing centrifuges.

Natanz is one of Tehran’s most important nuclear facilities and has over the past few years suffered several mysterious accidents, including fires, explosions and cyberattacks, blamed by Iran on Israel and the United States.

Iran also has accused Israel of assassinating a slew of its nuclear scientists and prominent program officials.

Our bilateral relationship with Israel … is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East

As experts were assessing the damage at the blacked-out site, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin touched down in Israel, kicking off his two-day trip to the Jewish state.

Austin, the first senior official of the Joe Biden administration to visit Israel, met with Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, and with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, and will later sit down with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

“Our bilateral relationship with Israel … is central to regional stability and security in the Middle East,” Austin said during a press conference with Gantz.

“Our commitment to Israel is enduring and it is ironclad, and I pledge to continue close consultations in order to ensure Israel’s qualitative military edge and to strengthen Israel’s security.”

On Friday, US officials concluded their first round of indirect talks with Iranian representatives in Vienna, mediated by European diplomats.

The sides have looked to agree on a mechanism by which the US and the Islamic Republic can return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal, which was abandoned by former President Donald Trump in 2018 and later breached repeatedly by Tehran.

The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the State of Israel

Gantz in his remarks stressed that “Israel views the US as a full partner across all operational threats, not the least Iran.”

“The Tehran of today poses a strategic threat to international security, to the entire Middle East and to the State of Israel,” Gantz told his counterpart.

“We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will secure the vital interests of the world… prevent dangerous unrest in our region and protect the state of Israel.”

Last week, Netanyahu offered a more blunt approach during the nation’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, warning Israel’s “closest friends: make no mistake, a treaty with Iran that paves its way to nuclear weapons won’t bind us in any way.”

I think an agreement can and probably will be reached – since both sides want it – but it’ll take some time

Professor James Acton, co-director of the Nuclear Policy Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Media Line there is a good chance the Vienna talks will bear fruit, despite Israeli objections.

“Both sides have said that they want to resuscitate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Moreover, both have, explicitly or implicitly, indicated that a simultaneous return to compliance would be acceptable,” Acton said.

Yet challenges may arise when Iran and the US turn to the issue of sanctions imposed by Trump following his exit from the pact, he explains.

“Obviously, the JCPOA itself is silent on these sanctions. Again, I think an agreement can and probably will be reached – since both sides want it – but it’ll take some time.”

The Americans simply pulled out of the agreement, and the Europeans cowered to the US and did not live up to their end of the bargain in lifting the sanctions

Prof. Mehran Kamrava, who teaches government at Georgetown University’s Qatar campus, agrees there is “a genuine desire on all sides to make tangible progress in the negotiations,” but cautions of Iranian distrust.

The Americans simply pulled out of the agreement, and the Europeans cowered to the US and did not live up to their end of the bargain in lifting the sanctions

“Their negotiating partners have shown themselves to be manifestly unreliable,” Kamrava explains Tehran’s point of view. “The Americans simply pulled out of the agreement, and the Europeans cowered to the US and did not live up to their end of the bargain in lifting the sanctions.”

“Therefore it is important for the Iranians to push ahead with their own progress on the technical front lest the other side decides to once again renege on its end of the bargain,” he says, alluding to Saturday’s launching of the advanced centrifuges.

Iran has over the past few months increasingly stepped up its uranium enrichment, thereby violating the 2015 deal. It is currently enriching its stockpile to 20% purity, a step away from weapons-grade 90% levels.

A common refrain in Iran these days is that even if [it] were to completely give up its nuclear program and, say, start manufacturing shoelaces, the US and the EU, with prodding from Israel and Saudi Arabia, would begin calling Iran’s shoelace manufacturing industry the biggest threat to regional peace and security

“A common refrain in Iran these days is that even if [it] were to completely give up its nuclear program and, say, start manufacturing shoelaces, the US and the EU, with prodding from Israel and Saudi Arabia, would begin calling Iran’s shoelace manufacturing industry the biggest threat to regional peace and security,” Kamrava demonstrates Tehran’s frustrations.

“This is the understanding that informs Iran’s endgame in the negotiations. Given their behavior since 2018, it is difficult to argue that the endgame of the US and EU is anything less than Iran’s complete surrender.”

Acton believes the JCPOA, while far from perfect, is “the best available route to block Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons.”

“I think the administration’s plan [is] to engage Iran on further restrictions on its nuclear and missile program as part of a “more-for-more” approach, only after restoring the JCPOA,” he adds.

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